“What is the law to us?” demanded Umballa frankly. “Let us make laws to suit our needs. The white man does. And we need money; we need one another,” pointing a finger suggestively toward the floor.
“Only when we have the troops,” replied the council firmly. “We have bent our heads to your will so far in everything, but we refuse to sacrifice these heads because of a personal spite against Ramabai, whom we frankly and wisely fear. We dare not break into the treasury. The keepers are unbribable; the priests are with them, and the people are with the priests. Bring back the white man and his daughter. If that is impossible, marry this second daughter and we will crown her; and then you may work your will upon Ramabai. You have failed in all directions so far. Succeed but once and we are ready to follow you.”
Umballa choked back the hot imperious words that crowded to his lips. These were plain unvarnished facts, and he must bow to the inevitable, however distasteful it might be. For the present then, Ramabai should be permitted to go unharmed. But Ramabai might die suddenly and accidentally in the recapture of the Colonel Sahib. An accidental death would certainly extinguish any volcanic fires that smoldered under Allaha. So, with this secret determination in mind, Umballa set forth.
Ahmed, his mind busy with a thousand things, forgot the thousand and first, at that stage most important of all; and this was the short cut, a mere pathway through the jungle, but which lessened the journey by some thirty miles. And this pathway Umballa chose. The three hours’ headway was thus pared down to minutes, and at the proper time Umballa would appear, not behind the pursued, but in the road in front of them.
There was, to be sure, a bare possibility of the colonel and his party getting beyond the meeting of the path and the road, that is, if he kept going forward all through the night, which, by the way, was exactly what the astute Ahmed did. But Kathlyn’s curiosity the next morning neutralized the advantage gained.
A group of masked dancers, peripatetic, was the cause. Confident that they had outstripped pursuit, she saw no reason why she should not witness the dancing.
How Umballa came upon them suddenly, like a thunderbolt, confiscating the elephants; how they fled to a near-by temple, bribed the dancers for masks and garments, fled still farther into the wooded hills, and hid there with small arms ready, needs but little telling. Umballa returned to the city satisfied. He had at least deprived them of their means of travel. Sooner or later they would founder in the jungle, hear of the arrival of the younger daughter and return.
Ahmed was grave. Lal Singh had gone. Now that the expedition had practically failed, his place was back in the shoe shop in the bazaars. Yes, Ahmed was grave. He was also a trifle disheartened. The fakir had said that there would be many disappointments, but that in the end . . . He might be a liar like all the other Hindus. Yet one part of his foretelling was correct: many disappointments.